Continental turkey

HOME for Thanksgiving is best, but the holiday can be fun away. The hamlet of Waiblingen, for instance, was ready for Christmas the year we were there for Thanksgiving, which is interesting, because the Germans do not observe our Thanksgiving and it is not a date for decking the shop windows. Only a German shopkeeper can deck his window with the art of the Sistine ceiling, so we strolled about Waiblingen that afternoon feeling Christmasy. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and we had found the parking place behind the Hotel Stern (for guests only!) in early afternoon and decided the Stern was just the place to observe the holiday. We had doffed our tourist casuals and put on our other ones, as we always dressed for dinner. We had time, so we strolled to look at the Christmas displays.

There was a toy electric railroad in one window; two trains determined to crash, but kept apart by an amazing switching system priced at DM 11.25. At that time, the US dollar made that an enticing value, but I refrained and went on to the next window. It was suppertime when we returned to the hotel, and the landlady said she did, indeed, have smoked chops, and they would come gleich.

During the meal we made some friends. A young lady at the next table spoke, ``I am hearing you speaking English!'' After that sally she was, however, mostly done. She was studying English in school, and we fancied she had spoken to us mostly to impress her boyfriend, who said nothing and appeared uneasy. A gruff old duffer at the next table on our other side responded to her sally. ``I learn it in school! I learn it in school! Then they show how liddle they learn! Blame it on the school!'' He muttered in his soup, but emerged to explain that he taught English, but not to this young lady. Later, he translated for us the inscription carved in the woodwork of the dining room: Nur mit Humor dein Sach' bestellt, dann lacht dir froh die ganze Welt. He said it means, ``Keep smiling, or you'll get kicked out!'' So we had the usual good supper in a brown-gravy German dining room, and we went to our room on Thanksgiving Eve.

At breakfast Thanksgiving morning, I told the landlady that back home in the United States, today was Thanksgiving.

``Dankfest!'' she said. ``I've heard of that - that's when everybody eats turkey!'' Then, arranging our eggs, she added, ``I've never seen a turkey.''

One of the greatest truths of all philosophies concerns the improbable - you must always allow for coincidence. The turkey is American and is associated with our Pilgrim lore. Except in a zoo, or in an uncommon barnyard, our landlady wouldn't see a turkey, and since the Germans are not given to oven roasting as we are, it would be unlikely to find one in a market. But behold! Enter coincidence!

That very day, our American Thanksgiving but no holiday in Germany, the hamlet of Waiblingen welcomed its first American-style supermarket. We had seen one in Munich, where it seemed to be catching on, and were amused that it offered Green Stamps! Otherwise Germans were unacquainted then with our super-duper handy-dandy. On our stroll after breakfast we came upon banners and flags and balloons and the whoop-de-do of a Grand Opening. The ribbon had just been cut, and inside the door a girl handed my wife a carnation. It was pretty much like our stores back home. And in the frozen foods area a huge Virginia tom turkey dominated the poultry display. He was just such a bird as we'd be having at home that day, if we were home, and I have no notion as to why he was improbably exposed in that far place. We surmised the store manager, in arranging his opening inventory, may have smartly considered that in those postwar days a random American stationed there might wander in. But there is no way to foresee or explain coincidence, and we bought the turkey and carried him - all eight kilos - back to the Hotel Stern and thumped him on the reception desk before the landlady.

``Truthahn!'' I said.

The expression on her face was worth the price and the lugging. We could see that the defoliated bird, clipped and clean in his close-hauled poly bag, was not exactly what she expected a strutting tom turkey to look like. And she may have been pondering on how the ``crazy Americans'' go about cooking such a beast. But she thanked us and took the turkey to the kitchen; we never saw it again.

But shortly a note came to our room. It said, ``Please. 13.00 hours. Schinken mit Pommes frites.'' Thus we were guests of the Hotel Stern in Waiblingen for Thanksgiving dinner, and we smiled. When we came into the dining room on the dot of 1 p.m., the other guests rose and bowed. You don't need to be home.

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